Athenaeum Library Book Arts Lecture

Art History Lectures


Presented by Linda Blair


Mondays, January 14, 21, 28, February 4 & 11, 2019

Thursdays, January 17, (Friday) 25, 31, February 7 & 14, 2019

All lectures begin at 7:30 PM


Due to popular demand the same lecture will be offered two nights per week on Mondays and Thursdays (except the second lecture, which will be on Friday). For tickets or more information, click on the links below or call 1-858-454-5872.



How can we stretch our mere mortal minds to grasp Leonardo da Vinci’s genius in so many areas—science and art, engineering, mathematics, optics, geology, anatomy? Attentive parenting in a stimulating environment? Education (or the lack thereof)? Genes? (Is it true his mother was a Middle Eastern slave?) Was he liberated by living on the margins of society, given the intellectual isolation of a mind centuries ahead of its time and his homosexuality? We will grapple with these conundrums at the same time we lose ourselves in his art.


This class will attempt to encompass the genius of Leonardo, present new research into his life and art, and place him within the context of the Renaissance.


January 14 & 17 » Emergence of Realism, Giotto

The Renaissance is not a gentle easing from one century to another, as history usually is, but a radical departure—humanism overtakes medieval piety, otherworldliness retreats before materialism, and spirituality bows to worldly concerns. Art reflects this confrontation between eras, and artists struggle to redefine man and man’s relationship with the Divine. It all begins where we will begin, with Giotto. Ever innovative and inventive, Giotto designs real human beings acting out divine dramas, injecting a psychological depth entirely new to art.


January 21 & 25* » Tracing the Arc of the Renaissance

Donatello opens the 1400s with sculpture that promulgates the humanist concept of man, discoveries which were carried forth by Masaccio, a painter of unprecedented originality. We conclude the Renaissance with the art of the saintly monk, Fra Angelico, followed by Fra Filippo Lippi—“the healthy monk,” as a shocked Victorian called him. Botticelli will bring the 1400s to a close. *Please note that January 25 is a Friday, not a Thursday.


January 28 & January 31 » Leonardo, Capstone of the Renaissance

Finally, we arrive at Leonardo. He was so ahead of his time, his concepts and inventions lay dormant for centuries. Whether a newly designed city with underground pipes to dispose of waste; submarines and diving suits in Venice to repel sea invaders (followed by the decision to not disclose his plans because “man is evil”), or creating a model glass aorta to study the functioning of the aortic valve, using water containing grass seed to observe the pattern of flow... so many ideas, but so much futility. All that genius—and it was not impractical genius—just too early, too out of his time.


February 4 & 7 » Leonardo

The world continues to be fascinated by the man himself, the source of his genius, the beauty and mystery of his art. The last two weeks will be devoted to an in-depth look at his paintings, taking note of his distinguishing characteristics in preparation for discussion of disputed Leonardo works.


February 11 & 14 » Conclusion and Connoisseurship

The ancient Greeks believed that if one excelled beyond all others, he must have been personally chosen by the gods. If one ran the fastest footrace, sculpted the finest statue, wrote the winning drama, it was because the gods entered the athlete’s body, whispered in the playwright’s ears, guided the sculptor’s chisel. Touched by divinity, the victor—athlete, playwright, sculptor—was elevated to a plane of existence beyond mere mortals. And the gods bestowed one other gift: immortality. He would live forever in the minds of man. The gods touched Leonardo da Vinci.


Suggested reading:

Brunelleschi's Dome, Ross King

Medici Money, Tim Parks

Leonardo, Walter Isaacson

Leonardo and the Last Supper, Ross King


About Linda Blair

Linda Blair received her BA from Mills College and her MA from the University of San Diego. She has lectured on diverse topics in European art history for many years, primarily on the East Coast. Locally, she teaches a master class at the UCSD Osher Institute in addition to the Athenaeum.


Joan and Irwin Jacobs Music Room

Athenaeum Music & Arts Library

1008 Wall Street

La Jolla, CA 92037



Individual tickets: $14 for members / $19 for nonmembers

Series tickets: $60 for members / $85 for nonmembers


Monday Series:     

Thursday Series: 



Online tickets are subject to ticketing fees.